Tuesday, July 14, 2009

For f's sake

Dear Reader,

I briefly played "Evony," a MMORTS... I guess. Something like that, anyway. It was alright, if you're into resource management games and mmo's you might want to give it a shot. I got quite obsessive about it though (I had spreadsheets, and diagrams... my alliance was starting to hate me) so I quit.

But that's not what I want to talk about. I want to talk about Evony's banner ads. They used to look something like this, and look at that guy complain! Now they look like... well, it's a bit absurd. What I love is that they advertise that you can play from home, school, or work.



Tuesday, July 7, 2009

New Stuff!

Dear Reader,

My friend and I went to a slew of games stores in the city today. It was pretty weird seeing all of the shelves loaded up with D&D 4th Edition, made me feel pretty old. It also tanked one of my ambitions, which was to try and publish some of my 3rd Edition adventures for a few extra bucks. I have no idea how much money I could have made doing that, probably not very much, but it would have been neat, and a good way to get started in the industry.

I saw some wonderful stuff out there. It's been ages since I was in a proper games store. I was horridly tempted by the various board games set in Renaissance Italy, but I resolved to wait until I'm teaching (tax deductible!). I did, however, succumb to a few temptations. I am the proud owner of three shiny new translucent d20s: one yellow, one dark blue-green, and one clear. I saw my friends tossing around some translucent d20s at our last session of Dread Ilk and I resolved to own some myself (in addition to my sparkly apple-green one). I much prefer them to those illegible speckled monstrosities, or simple opaque colours (I have a white one: how boring is that?).

I also gave in, to a somewhat pricier tune, to a neat little rpg called "Faery's Tale: Deluxe." I have yet to figure out what's deluxe about it, but as you might guess it's all about playing as sprites or brownies or what have you. I'm a bit disappointed to see goblins and the like as evil NPCs, and the game centred on being kind and nice, but that's true of most systems I've seen and hasn't stopped me from running a monster campaign yet.

Apart from the wonderful artwork and fluff, what interested me in the game is that it's geared towards children. Don't think this makes it a frivolous system: it has nice simple dice-pool mechanics based on body, mind, and spirit, as well as gifts/traits, and a wonderful system of "Essence." Essence functions as your hit points, as you lose it in a fight; your experience points, as you gain it for desirable behaviour or great success; and as mana to fuel certain abilities and spells. There's also a great system of boons, which are essentially roleplaying rewards in the form of NPCs owing you a favour, which can be traded in for magic items, stat increases, or titles ("from knight to faery princess" boasts the blurb). It's a lightweight tome, at 90 pages of A5, most of which is taken up with flavour text and lovely illustrations, and certainly the simplicity of the rules lends itself to playing with kids (though I also find it appeals to my gaming instincts).

There's a lot in there, however, that is much more considered in how it approaches children. For starters, there's a section which introduces the concept of developmental stages (taken from good old Erikson) in how you should write your adventures: younger children are likely to have trouble with empathy and moral dilemmas, whereas as children get older they are more interested in what their personal characters are doing and more difficult challenges. There are plenty of places where the game can be tuned down: either mechanically (simplified combat, diceless, character creation based on sketches done by the child and interpreted by the GM) or emotionally (simpler challenges, avoiding death scenes with "falling into a magical slumber" or running away). And there are, of course, opportunities to take it the other way: there's a decent section on LARPing as pixies, which sounds fantastic, and encouragement for props, costume, et cetera. It suggests scenery such as couches, rugs, et cetera, but I can imagine taking a whole primary school class out to a park one day and going nuts...

I'd really like to run this game with my group, but I'd need to toughen it up slightly. The system is geared towards encouraging children to behave nicely to one another: you get Essence for being kind and considerate in various ways, and "Dark Essence" for being nasty. I'd have to develop the Dark Essence bit, since I know my group wouldn't view it as a bad outcome. The combat rules are probably fine left simple, but to hell with falling into a magical slumber: if the goblins beat you, they're going to chew your limbs off. I had an amazing idea for an adventure based on a marauding entomologist.


Saturday, July 4, 2009

24 Hour RPG: Out of the ashes of a failed attempt

Dear Reader

I tried my hand at the 24 Hour RPG competition, and failed. I had picked the phrase "semi-disposable," and was beginning to structure a game based on the experience of Soviet soldiers at Stalingrad. Each soldier had an individual dice pool and battles were played out in a series of scenes inspired by Grey Ranks (there were, in fact, a lot of similarities between this game and Grey Ranks or Carry). In each scene, every soldier rolled their dice pool to determine what contribution they made to a plan negotiated between the GM and one player who played the Sergeant. Successes (5 or 6) contributed to overcoming the Germans, failures (1) didn't detract from that but put the soldier at risk of death.

The interesting bit of the concept was to be a communal dice pool called the "Tactical Situation." These dice would be at the disposal of individual players, who could roll tactical dice to protect themselves from the dangers of failure. Any that weren't used in this way would be at the Sergeant's disposal to help beat back the Germans. So there was to be a tension between individual survival and group success.

The concept was flawed in a few ways:
1. I wasn't quite sure what the overall goal was, except perhaps to play until the squad was exterminated or the GM decided they'd had enough and the Germans would get defeated. It made it difficult to predict progress through the game, and how to set the stakes at each point.

2. I had a roll outlined for a political commissar, who could theoretically sack the Sergeant. But I had no idea how, or why, he would do so.

3. The game was lacking in motivation, not just for the group as a whole, but for individuals. Why would they sacrifice themselves for group success? Then again, there was little room for individual development, so why not?

I have thought of how to salvage some of the work, however. I might recast this as a medieval rpg. By that I mean emphatically NOT a fantasy rpg, but one depicting the struggle between lord and villein. Perhaps this is because I know a lot more about medieval society than the Red Army in WWII, but this causes the roles to come into sharper focus: the Sergeant becomes a Lord, the Commissar becomes a Priest, and the soldiers become peasants. The game is about the peasants trying to eke out a living, playing mostly as a team that rolls a dice pool called "the commons," or working small freeholdings of their own, while the Lord and Priest are trying to appropriate as much of the peasants' wealth as possible for their own enrichment and goals.

Possible "adventures" would include the black plague (creates a land surplus or labour shortage, depending on how you look at it), wars with France or Scotland (calls men away from their farms, threatening famine, but also offering riches), or simply start conditions off as gruelling (high taxes, incessant persecution of heresies) and see how the parties work things out (google 1381 if you want my prediction).

This game would probably be best played without a GM, with Lords or Priests initiating most of the action by naming their own goals (fight a war, build a cathedral) which would necessitate a high rate of taxation. It would need means of tracking construction projects, accumulated wealth of various sorts, and a rudimentary combat system.

It would be quite nice to design this so it could be played with up to 25 players, including several lords, priests, and even a few townsfolk, with a wide range of dice pools representing productive land all over the place, and let the rivalry of the lords (both spiritual and temporal) drive the game. Then I could use it for introducing students to medieval history.

Hmmmmmmmmm. Sorry for the rant, an idea is forming.